• Isabella Ji

#NotACrime: Worldwide Street Art Campaign for Educational Equality in Iran

The walls in Harlem speak. The narrow streets and wide avenues are painted with more than 20 colorful murals. All these murals raise awareness for educational equality of the Baha'is in Iran by addressing the human rights crisis in Iran and the continuous struggle to overcome inequality in the United States.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, thousands of young people, from the Baha'i religious minority, have been banned from higher education because of their beliefs. Those of the Baha'i faith have been torched, jailed, harassed, and even killed for their different values. The organization "Education Is Not A Crime" created a campaign in New York City in an effort to fight this injustice through creativity and art. 

Scattered throughout Harlem and East Harlem are murals created by artists from all over the world. These murals shed light on the unseen stories of real people affected by injustices. For example, El Cekis, a Chilean muralist, painted a mural on Lexington Avenue and 119th Street in East Harlem (shown above). This mural illustrates a boy aged around seven or eight, who lives in East Harlem, and is reading a book opened to a page that features Mahvash Sabet’s poem. Sabet is a Iranian Baha'i teacher who was imprisoned because of her religious beliefs.

Little Girl and Not-Hobbes 

Bustart, another artist, painted a four story tall mural at the ABC school in Harlem of a schoolgirl with her toy tiger and a series of drawings falling out of her backpack (shown below). The falling drawing are actual copies of drawings by children at the ABC school. The symbolism behind the falling drawings is the stolen dreams of young Iranian Baha’is, who are rejected by their own government the right to attend university.

Learning to Read

This mural painted by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, who is half Iranian and half African-America, displays a portrait of a young Black girl learning how to read (shown below).

Iran’s Broken Ruler

David Torres, also known as Rabi, focuses his art on life and the human condition. His artwork is of a ruler broken in half with the words “Made In Iran” (below). The "ruler" is a play on words and the mural depicts both a shattered government and educational system. It is located in the Nelson Mandela memorial garden.

The Caring & The Needing

Marthalicia Matarrita’s mural resembles a portrait of a young girl with seeds of education and knowledge being planted into her mind (shown below). The painting shows the power and influence of learning.

Mother & Children

Alexandre Keto’s mural in East Harlem displays a powerful mother figure watching her children in a lake. Although the setting is fantastical, it is Keto’s way of evoking many themes: educational equality, care for the environment, and a safe haven for communities of color and those suffering from around the world (show below).

“Everybody should be free to go to school, to learn, to understand...We need to take care of each other!”

Only a few murals and their stories are pictured in this article. "Education Is Not A Crime" invites you to tour the countless other murals in Harlem and learn about the story behind each of these works of art. 

The #EducationIsNotACrime Campaign hopes to spread global awareness and stimulate sincere conversations about Iran’s human rights violations against the Baha’is. "Education Is Not A Crime" believes that every struggling community is linked and in order to raise awareness about Iranian Baha’is, we must also address inequality and discrimination everywhere in the world. You can help disseminate this injustice by tagging photos of the murals at #EducationIsNotACrime, and following them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their website.

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